CSUN student Shalini Juneja really appreciates being a Matador.
“I love CSUN,” said the 20-year-old junior informational systems major. “This place has made me feel at home.”
Originally from India, Juneja is a long way from home.
“At first I hated it (here),” Juneja said.
She arrived in the United States two years ago from the city of Ludhiana, in the Indian state of Punjab.
“None of my friends were here, and you lose everything when you leave your home country. I left my home and family, and I was just 18, and I had never been away from home. I used to cry with my sister until I settled in. Now I love CSUN.”
Juneja’s experience is not unique.
South Asian and international students in general often have a difficult time adjusting to life here in Southern California, according to Roopa Rawjee, who as foreign student adviser in the Student Development and International Programs departments, helps international students adjust to life at CSUN.
“There is often a dramatic culture shock for international students who come here and experience the differences between their home countries and the realities of Western life,” said Rawjee, who is a CSUN alumna and Indian native. “It is probably better for Indians because most know English and there is a substantial population of Indians in this area.”
With a population of more than a billion people, India is the largest democracy in the world and has spawned Hinduism and Buddhism, two of the most influential religions in the world. Lately, it has received attention for its thriving high-tech economy.
India is part of an area of the world known as South Asia, which also includes the nations of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Rawjee estimates there about 7,000 South Asians living in the San Fernando Valley.
Phyllis Herman is a religious studies professor and faculty adviser of the South Asia Club, an organization for students interested in the cultures of South Asia. The club is inactive this semester but will start up again in the spring.
Herman said there are many students from South Asia at CSUN, not only international students but first- and second-generation native residents.
“South Asians find almost a second home here at CSUN,” Herman said. “There is a community here that is growing, and they bring their traditions with them.”
Originally from the Indian city of Bangalore, Swathi Kadur, 23, graduated from CSUN last spring. She came to the San Fernando Valley five years ago after living in the Caribbean for 12 years. She studied for two years at Pierce College before transferring to CSUN.
“I came here because there is more opportunity here than in India or Europe,” Kadur said. “The good thing about the Valley is that it has everything, every religion and so many religious festivals.
“There are a lot of Indians here, more than you think.”
According to the 2000 census there are 1.7 million Indian-Americans living in the United States, a 106 percent increase from 1990. Indian-Americans have an average household median income of $70,000, compared with $50,000 for the general population.
According to the Indian government, India has become one of the leading nations in information technology with an economy that is growing at a rate of seven percent per year.
India has a history of religious strife between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority and has had three wars since the 1947 partition with its neighbor Pakistan, a majority Islamic country.
Professor Herman said that in the five years she has been faculty adviser for the South Asia Club she has never seen a problem with students of different national and religious backgrounds.
“The biggest arguments are usually over when we will have the next party?” Herman said with a chuckle.
“People (South Asians) get along really fine here,” Kadur said. “Everybody is going through the same things, struggling with the same problems. We are all striving to get a degree. I have a lot of Muslim friends,” said Kadur, who is a Hindu. “I go to their festivals; they go to mine.”
“Most of the hatred and violence is political and is something that is left behind (in South Asia),” said Juneja, who is Hindu.
Juneja and Kadur said they take their religion seriously.
“You come here as a student and it seems that Indians get more religious than they would be at home,” Kadur said. “Their religion helps Indian students get through the hardships of being far away from home.”
“I am really, really close to my family,” Juneja said. “I talk with them all the time.”
Juneja and Kadur said they do not know what they would do without their families.
This is a common sentiment among South Asian students, student adviser Rawjee said.
“Most South Asian students are very close to their families and usually live with their families when going to university back home,” Rawjee said. “Even after they are married, many people live with their parents. There is no cultural shame in that as there might be in the U.S.”
Rawjee explained that most South Asian students are away from home for the first time.
“There are huge cultural differences for students that are coming directly over from India,” Rawjee said. “Western values are very different. It is a challenge on every level. The food here is so different. It isn’t spicy like they are used to, and most students have to work while being a student here, which doesn’t happen much at home.”
Many educated Indian students still engage in a practice that has died out in Western culture: arranged marriages.
Though both Juneja and Kadur’s parents had a “love marriage,” a marriage that came about because their parents fell in love, the women find the idea of one day voluntarily accepting an arranged marriage very comforting.
“I want to get an arranged marriage,” Kadur said twice, gently pounding her hand on a table for emphasis. “I absolutely believe in love, but I also believe that an arranged marriage is the best thing. I want my parents to take care of all the formalities, (looking into) his educational background, whether he can support you. They take care of all the ugly stuff that you don’t want to deal with. You just have to see (whether) you click with him or not.”
Many Indian students say arranged marriages are just another kind of courting process, much like Internet dating, except parents are involved.
“It’s like a dating service,” Kadur said. “Actually, it is a dating service. They have online services now (to help families arrange marriages). You pretty much have these guys laid out before you, and you pick him.
“And you go out with him and if it doesn’t work out, you move on to someone else with no hard feelings.”
Juneja wants to find a spouse on her own but if she is not married by the time she is 25, she said she would turn over the marriage arranging process to her mother.
The students said they have found CSUN to be receptive to them and their way of life.
Herman said that following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, some Sikhs (male Sikhs who wear a ritual headdress resembling a turban) had problems because some people confused them with Arabs.
“Since then, I don’t know of any problems,” Herman said. “This is a very welcoming community for South Asians.”
Juneja and Kadur both said that they have not experienced any prejudice.
“As far as prejudice, not really,” Kadur said. “You heard things, maybe after September 11, but we have not had any problems in general.”
Both Juneja and Kadur want to stay in the United States, but are open to going back to India.
“Jobs are hard to find in India,” Juneja said. “There are so many people looking for jobs, but things are changing.”
Kadur agrees that India is changing.
“India is growing so fast,” Kadur said. “India is boom
ing. I want to stay here and maybe get a master’s degree.
“No matter what, India will always be a part of me.”
Robert McDonald can be reached at email@example.com.